It is a conservation truism that uncontrolled harvesting of salmon from an accessible river system will not be sustainable. Therefore, a conservation management plan must, at the very least, control the numbers of licences on a system or its retention quota, or preferably both. Throughout my considerable angling career around the province, this simple fact has never been adhered to, except by remote outfitter operations in Labrador largely making decisions on their own initiative to protect their investments.
Some 70 years ago, unlimited numbers of anglers were permitted to retain eight salmon daily for a long five-month season. This loose daily restriction was gradually reduced to six, then four, then two, then to 15 per season, then six, four and now one per season. Over the majority of this period, the numbers of naturally spawned salmon entering accessible rivers gradually declined.
Certainly uncontrolled commercial netting in our own offshore waters, coupled with a Greenland and St-Pierre fishery were a significant factor, but our own uncontrolled angling in our accessible river systems was and remains the largest problem. The numbers of salmon entering our rivers did improve for a short period after the 1992 commercial ban, but then the gradual decline continued to the situation we see today.
One minor conservation plan did occur on the Island in the early 1990s in an effort by DFO to address the decline, but sadly was not continued beyond one year, not because it was ineffective, but because some anglers directed a vociferous public campaign against DFO’s river retention quotas as being overly restrictive and not supported by actual river counts.
Basically, this plan consisted of setting up zones around the province with retention quotas for each. These retention quotas were split between July and August with two weeks in each month available for retention or release. The zonal retention numbers were largely collected by students traveling along the rivers reporting numbers to the DFO guardians. When a zonal quota was reached, the retention would cease. In the case of July, should the retention quota not be reached at the middle of the month, it could be carried over into August.
The lack of a sensible conservation management plan is much more critical today and will be greatly exacerbated by Fisheries and Land Resources Minister Gerry Byrne’s recent foray into the process. This minister appears to have an innate ability for early capture of the political low ground in whatever portfolios he has headed, federal or provincial. His latest endeavour is no exception in the decision to increase as much as possible the numbers of salmon licences by reducing the cost some 80 per cent to $5.75 — which is well below the cost of a farmed salmon and will add greater pressure to kill our remaining wild fish for purely political appeasement.
Conservation is now out the window and punishment of anglers choosing to release fish is the new order of the day. This decision will not only negatively affect outfitters, but general tourism around the province through the loss of badly needed service employment.
The initial limitation of four angled fish per day by DFO had more to do with the control on unsportsmanlike hogging by some anglers rather than concerns over fish mortality. All large salmon must be released.
The release of angled fish is an accepted scientific conservation management practice used throughout Canada and the world. Given proper handling within established temperature protocols and short air exposure, virtually all released salmon will survive to spawn.
Under Canada’s Constitution, the management of Inland fishery rests with the government of Canada. Management of this fishery or sections thereof can be delegated to provinces under a legal agreement.
As to whether the minister’s public announcement on his department’s legislation is legally capable of permitting the inland fishery regulations he has or intends to put into effect, it is a moot point. For the sake of the salmon this should be challenged by legal experts.